AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Every year since 1988, 1st December is observed as World AIDS Day to spread awareness and in remembrance of the people who died of this fatal disease. AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is caused after a person is tested positive for HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus. One important thing before anything else is that while AIDS is caused by HIV, having HIV doesn’t mean that the person would also be suffering from AIDS. This is nothing but a myth.

HIV virus attacks the immune system of the person putting him/her to the risk of other infections to worsen their health. To prevent further damage to health, the person must seek medical attention and undergo proper treatment. HIV/AIDS is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured but can be controlled to avert other health hazards.


Quick Facts about AIDS

  • About 38 million people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS
  • Around 8.1 million people are unaware that they are HIV positive
  • About 1.7 million people have recently been diagnosed with this virus
  • About 160,000 children tested positive for HIV in 2018
  • Around 770,000 people died after AIDS in 2018


There have been a lot of advancements in the treatment of AIDS which has significantly reduced the death rate by a huge number. After treatment, the chances of developing AIDS reduce which means the person is highly unlikely to get AIDS despite being HIV positive. The life expectancy gap between HIV positive and HIV negative people lowered down by almost 25 years. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV positive people can lead a quality life after getting properly treated. 


What Is HIV?  

Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is a deadly virus that attacks the immune system of a person by targeting important immune cells called CD4 cells. These are WBCs that play a vital role in detecting anomalies, faults and infections in the human body. The HIV virus targets and permeates these white blood cells to plague the system thereby reducing the immunity of the body to resist infections and other diseases. Not just that it also allows opportunistic infections and cancer cells to attack the body. Once a person gets infected with this virus, it stays for a lifetime. It is not possible to completely get this virus out of the body but it is possible to prevent it from reaching a severe level with the right treatment.


What Is AIDS?  

AIDS or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a disease caused by HIV. A person who is infected with HIV may get AIDS sooner or later in life. This syndrome is caused when the immune system of the infected person is extremely weak and unable to fight infections and viruses. Thus, it becomes susceptible to illnesses such as AIDS.

AIDS is also referred to as last-stage HIV or advanced HIV as it is the final stage of HIV where the infection reaches the extreme level damaging the immune system of the person so that it may even lead to the death of the person in the absence of proper treatment. However, due to great advancements in the medical industry, the treatment for AIDS has become possible which has reduced the number of deaths.

One of the commonly asked questions about AIDS is that who can get this infection? The HIV is passed on from one to the other person through blood, breast milk, pre-cum or pre-seminal fluid, semen, vaginal fluid and fluid from the rectum. If any of these body fluids of the infected person gets mixed with that of a healthy person, the chances of HIV infection increase. 

Here are the major risk factors of HIV/AIDS:


Unprotected sex: This is one of the major causes of getting infected by HIV virus and AIDS. If a person builds a sexual relationship with an HIV positive person and does unprotected sex, he/she is highly likely to get AIDS too. One may also get infected by oral sex but the chances are meager in that case. This is why it is advised to use condoms and protection to avert such issues.


Multiple sexual partners: Person with multiple sexual partners is at a higher risk of getting infected with HIV. You may not know if a person has HIV or not which increases the risk. The more sexual partners you have, the greater are chances of getting HIV. Also, having sex with a sex worker without protection is closely linked with HIV as they do have multiple sex partners. 


A Sexually Transmitted Disease: Another risk factor for AIDS is having a sexually-transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis or chlamydia. These prompt changes in the tissues of private parts make it easy for HIV to enter your body during sex.


Shared Needles: There are a lot of incidences where a person got HIV/AIDS after being injected into an infected needle in the hospital. Reusing medical needles, syringes, injections are thus considered a crime. You may not know but you got infected with this deadly virus. You must ensure that any needle injected in your body for any purpose be it a medical test or tattooing or piercing, is new and sterilized. 


Transmission from Mother to Child:  If the mother has HIV, the chances of the baby becoming HIV positive are high. Either during pregnancy or after birth while breastfeeding. Thus, all pregnant women must undergo an HIV test and get treatment if tested positive.


Blood Transfusion: If the blood of an HIV-positive person is inserted in the body of a healthy person, he/she will also get HIV-positive. Although the cases have now reduced as the donor is tested for HIV before donation.

Early Symptoms


The initial non-specific symptoms of HIV/AIDS are:

  • Recurrent fever
  • Headache and other body aches
  • Nausea
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden and rapid weight loss
  • Pneumonia
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Splotches on the skin
  • Lesions of tongue and mouth
  • Shingles
  • Sweating while sleeping
  • Swollen lymph nodes especially of neck, groin and armpits
  • Recurrent yeast infections either oral or vaginal
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Neurological problems like memory loss, poor concentration, confusion, etc.


Other Problems Linked With HIV/AIDS


If a person gets AIDS, it means his/her immune system is severely damaged. It has become so weak that it is difficult to restore immunity and fight infections and diseases. This exposes a person to many other health issues such as:

  • Tuberculosis or TB
  • Pneumonia
  • Throat or mouth fungal infection (Oral thrush)
  • Cryptococcal meningitis (infection caused by fungus in the brain)
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Cryptosporidiosis parasite infection
  • Toxoplasmosis, infection in the brain caused by a parasite
  • Cancer


How is HIV transmitted?


The transmission of HIV is carried through: 

  • Blood
  • Breast milk
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Rectal fluids
  • Semen


Here are some things that are believed to transmit HIV but don’t:

  • Casual contact
  • Shaking hands or hugging
  • Kissing
  • Saliva, sweat or tears (unless it gets mixed with the blood of the HIV-positive person)
  • Skin-to-skin touch
  • Sharing eatables or drinks
  • Insect or mosquito bite
  • Sharing beds or toilet or toiletries 

HIV-1 and HIV-2


There are two types of HIV viruses- HIV-1 and HIV-2. These are different and can be tested by an antibody test to differentiate the antibodies of both the viruses.

HIV-1 is the predominant virus where 95% of the HIV infections all around the world are caused by the HIV-1 virus. On the other hand, the HIV-2 virus has significantly lesser cases in the account as this virus is around 55% genetically different from the HIV-1 virus.

The uncommon HIV-2 virus is commonly diagnosed in West Africa and its neighbouring countries. This virus is less infection as compared to HIV-1 and progresses slowly leaving behind great chances of recovery if diagnosed on time. Thus, the death of people infected with HIV-2 is low. Only of this virus doesn’t get treated on time, it will cause AIDS. As the cases of HIV-2 are less, the treatment options and drugs are also comparatively less.


Is The Condition Different In Men and Women?


No. The symptoms and condition is quite similar irrespective of the gender. But it depends on the infection and severity of the condition, what symptoms they suffer. 

Since both men and women can get infections with STDs, the chances of AIDS are also equal. However, as compared to men, women don’t get visible symptoms of HIV/AIDS on their genitals.


In addition to other problems, women might also go through these issues due to HIV infection:

  • Changes in the menstrual cycle
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis
  • Vaginal yeast infections
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Cervical cancer


Another risk with women is that if they are HIV-positive, the virus can also get transmitted to their child during pregnancy. They can reduce the chances of the transmission by taking antiretroviral therapy which is regarded as safe to be done during pregnancy.

Women with HIV history also need to be careful post-delivery as the child may get this virus through breast milk during breastfeeding.


Diagnosis Of HIV/AIDS


There are three major tests to diagnose HIV/AIDS.


Antibody/antigen tests

These are some of the most common tests to diagnose the virus and infection. The positive results are shown within 20-45 days after the person gets infected with the HIV virus.

The blood of the person is tested for antigens and antibodies. The antigen is a part of the HIV which restores the immunity of the person. Antibodies, on the other hand, are essential proteins that help the body fend off the viruses and combat infections.


Antibody tests

This test is only carried for antibodies and the results are usually delivered within 25-90 days. After HIV transmission, most of the people get antibodies in their saliva or blood that are easily detectable. This test is conducted by taking samples of saliva or blood. Typically, within 30 minutes, the results can be obtained in a clinic.


Nucleic acid test (NAT)

This test isn’t commonly done as it is quite expensive as this conducts a thorough examination of the virus in the patient’s body. HIV becomes detectable after 5 to 21 days after the transmission. This test is usually done along with an antibody test to confirm the result.

Treatment for AIDS


Timely treatment is the key to HIV/AIDS prevention. Also, it increases the life expectancy of the infected person. In recent years, the survival rate has increased due to medical advancements. People who adhere to proper treatments are highly likely to live longer as compared to those who leave the treatment in the middle. HIV/AIDS cannot be cured but can only be controlled with possible treatments after assessing the degree of the infection.

Possible treatment options are:


Post-exposure prophylaxis or Emergency HIV pills

The anti-HIV medicines also known as PEP(Post-exposure prophylaxis ) can only come to use if the person consumes them within three days of getting infected with HIV. These obstruct the infection from spreading in the body thereby killing the virus. But these need to be taken as soon as possible after coming in contact with the deadly virus.


Antiretroviral drugs

Antiretroviral medicines are commonly used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS as these inhibit the progression of the virus and infection. This is a staple prescription medicine for HIV/AIDS. The patients generally take a combination of medicines.


Entry inhibitors

As the name suggests, these medicines inhibit the HIV virus from killing the T cells. 


Protease inhibitors

HIV needs to replicate the protease enzyme for progression. Thus, these inhibitors prevent the virus from multiplying

The common protease inhibitors are:

  • Darunavir/Cobicistat (Prezcobix)
  • Lopinavir/Ritonavir (Kaletra)
  • Atazanavir/Cobicistat (Evotaz)


Integrase inhibitors

Similar to protease, HIV also needs an integrase to infect the white blood cells. This drug, thus, helps to obstruct the infection. The common integrase inhibitors are:

  • Raltegravir (Isentress)
  • Dolutegravir (Tivicay)
  • Elvitegravir (Vitekta)


Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs)

Also referred to as ‘nukes’, these stop the replication of HIV virus

This class of NRTIs is:

  • Lamivudine/zidovudine (Combivir)
  • Abacavir (Ziagen)
  • Tenofovir disproxil (Viread)
  • Emtricitabine (Emtriva)


Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)

These act similar to NRTIs in blocking the progression of HIV.


Possible Side-Effects Of AIDS Vaccines


Regardless of how carefully the vaccines are catered in the person’s body, there are certain side-effects that a person might suffer from vaccination such as fatigue; redness, pain and swelling around the area of vaccination.

There are no serious complications as such.



HIV/AIDS Prevention


Every adult must practice certain things to stay safe and protected from HIV or AIDS. Here are some important steps to be taken:


Practice safe sex

By safe we mean protected sex. Unprotected sex is one of the most common causes of STDs and HIV/AIDS as the virus easily passes from the infected person to the healthy one during sex. It is important to use condoms while having sex. This step is most important for people who have multiple sexual partners and often indulge in intercourse.

Latex condoms are the best to prevent HIV/AIDS. People who are allergic to latex shall use rubber/synthetic or plastic condoms. Protection is prevention.


Limit sexual partners

Having an exclusive partner for sex is better for your sexual and overall health as it cuts down the risk of getting STDs and HIV/AIDS. 


Get an HIV test done

Sexually active people must get themselves tested for HIV. Also, ask your partner to get the test so that you both know the status. You must also get tested for sexually transmitted infections as these create onset for HIV and AIDS. You can easily get these tests done at a clinic.


Sterile needles and injections

For any purpose, whenever you are injecting a syringe or needle in your body, make sure that it is sterilized. 


COVID-19 and HIV

Coronavirus is not less than havoc for the whole world. Can Coronavirus Kill AIDS Patients? A recent study has revealed that HIV positive patients are at a considerable risk of COVID-19. The study says that about 5 lakh AIDS patients can be killed due to this virus. It has been reported that since 2010, the rate of HIV infection among children living in Africa has been reduced by about 43 per cent due to antiretroviral therapy. But, due to the lack of other health services due to COVID-19, these people are not able to get medicines and treatment on time. Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda may also increase the risk of children becoming HIV infected. New HIV infections in children may increase by 104% if governments do not act to address the barriers to health services caused by COVID-19. The Condition Of AIDS Patients May Worsen: According to the Director-General of WHO, this situation is worrisome. We also need to pay attention to people suffering from diseases other than corona. AIDS-related testing kits and medicines will have to be provided to save the lives of people who have AIDS.

Common Myths and Facts Associated With AIDS


Myth: If you have HIV, you have AIDS

Fact: HIV is a virus that kills the vital white blood cells that fight immune infections. Whereas AIDS is caused by HIV when it is left untreated and reaches an extreme level. Anyone can get HIV but it is not necessary that an HIV-positive person also has AIDS.


Myth: People with AIDS would certainly die

Fact: With medical advancements, it has become possible to control the transmission of the virus and disease. As long as you are taking the right treatment, you’d live a quality life. Take your medicines on time and follow the instructions of the doctor to reduce the severity of the disease.


Myth: If both partners are HIV-positive, having sex is safe

Fact: Protection is important even if you are HIV-positive to prevent the worsening of the condition. You must use a latex or synthetic condom while having sex to stay protected. 

Does HIV positive means you have AIDS?



Can latex condoms prevent HIV/AIDS?

Yes, if used correctly and consistently. These are considered to be the best to prevent HIV and AIDS. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, you may also use a rubber or plastic condom.


Where can I get tested for HIV/AIDS?

You can go to a local health clinic or a doctor and ask them for the test.


Can oral sex cause HIV/AIDS?

Yes, it can but the chances are very less. Also, the risk is less as compared to vaginal or anal sex as during oral sex, the transmission of blood or semen isn’t exchanged.

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